Originally under construction as a naval air station for the Admiralty, Skeabrae was transferred to the Air Ministry, incomplete, on May 2nd 1940. It was handed over to meet the need for further RAF fighter bases in the Orkneys and the RAF began to arrive on August 15th 1940 to find a station with four runways, and few completed buildings but no water supply, sanitation or electricity. No. 14 Group RAF assumed administrative control of the station on August 30th.
RN use of the airfield
The station’s primary task was to providing vital fighter defence for the Royal Navy fleet at Scapa Flow and two RAF fighter squadrons were to occupy the site. However the first operational aircraft to arrive on October 10th were the Sea Gladiators of the Fleet Air Arm‘s 804 Squadron which disembarked from the Fleet Carrier HMS FURIOUS. While at Skeabrae the squadron was to re-equip with 12 of the new American single seat fighter the Martlet (US name Wildcat) On Christmas Day 1940 a pair of Martlets flown by Lt. R. H. P. Carver and Sub-Lt T. R. V. Parke were on patrol over Scapa and intercepted a German raider, a Ju 88; this was the first American built fighter to destroy an enemy aircraft in the Second World War. The squadron moved to RAF Skitten on January 7th 1941.
The first RAF unit to arrive came in January 1941, one Flight of Hawker Hurricanes from No 3 Sqn. In February they were replaced by the Hurricanes of No. 253 Sqn; they stayed until September 1941 and subsequently replaced by No 331 Squadron in the same month. They stayed resident until May 1942.
The next RN squadron did not arrive on the station until the end of 1941, the Sea Hurricanes of 801 Sqn arrived here from
RNAS St. Merryn on November 8th. They stayed until February 1942, moving to RAF Tain on the 15th. The next two RN squadrons stayed briefly before joining the Fleet Carrier VICTORIOUS, these were 884 Sqn equipped with 6 Fulmar Mk.IIs arriving from
RNAS Lee-on-Solent on September 15th and
embarking on October 20th. 882 Sqn moved here from
RNAS Donibristle on October 1st equipped with 12
Martlet IVs, they embarked 5 days later on the 6th. The
Fulmars of 884 Sqn returned on November 25th relocating from
RNAS Twatt, they moved to RAF Turnhouse on December 13th 1942.
The Fleet Air Arm did not return to Skeabrae until February 1944 when the Seafires of 880 moved here from
RNAS Ballyhalbert on the 6th. This squadron was to alternate between time afloat in the Fleet Carrier FURIOUS and ashore at Skeabrae. They embarked for the first of 14 short deployments on February 8th; on completion of the last deployment they disembarked on September 9th. The squadron moved to
RNAS Machrihanish a week later but returned to Skeabrae on October 27th. On November 8th it embarked in the Fleet Carrier IMPLACABLE for a short deployment, disembarking on the 29th. They moved to
RNAS Grimsetter on January 15th 1945.
On June 16th 1944 a detachment of 8 Wildcats from 881 Sqn disembarked from the Escort Carrier
PURSUER, they re-embarked on the 20th. No.897 squadron called at Skeabrae on July 6th 1944 in transit to embark in the Fleet Carrier INDEFATIGABLE. A detachment of 4 Corsairs of
1841Sqn disembarked from FORMIDABLE on August 16th re-embarking on the 18th. 897 disembarked from INDEFATIGABLE on September 24th; three weeks later they moved to
RNAS Grimsetter in transit to join IMPLACABLE on October 16th.
Beginning in mid-October 1944 detachments of 4 Barracudas from 841 Sqn bases at
RNAS Hatston 0 began making overnight stays on the station, four in total, the first was on the 15-16th and the last on the 7-8th of November.
The last RN squadron to operate from Skeabrae was 881 Sqn, they relocated from
RNAS Grimsetter on January 18th 1945 and operated from here until embarking in the Escort Carrier
PUNCHER on February 9th, disembarking on the 14th, they embarked for a second time on the 17th before returning ion the 25th. The squadron moved to
RNAS Hatston 0 on March 3rd 1945.
Transferred to Admiralty control as an RN Air Station in War
The last squadrons allocated to the defence of Scapa Flow at Skeabrae was No. 451 Squadron RAAF which arrived on the station on May 17th 1945. They departed for RAF Lasham,
Hampshire on June 12th 1945 to be replaced by the Spitfire
Mk.16s of 603 Sqn until the end of July. Skeabrae was now
run down to closure, the airfield closed on September 1st
11946 and reduced to Care and Maintenance status.
Transferred to the Admiralty on September 15th 1945 as a
RNAS Twatt but remained in care & maintenance status as TERN II. When the last RN Air Station on Orkney closed the station was reclassified as a Station on War Reserve and it was Bourne on the books of FULMAR,
No further use was made of the station and it was returned to agriculture by 1957.
Click here for a list of
Admiralty Fleet Orders:
Confidential Admiralty Fleet Orders: